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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 2, 2011 12:37am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

The Nightfall of Diamonds show....uh-huh. I think 10/16/89 was the first show from 1989 I heard, when I hadn't heard much but official releases, and I could tell that something was seriously wrong... It was like New-Ageish Lite-Dead Elevator Music - fell totally flat for me.
Just a matter of taste, I guess. I tried listening again to 3/24/90 recently and still didn't like that either - on the other hand, I do like the dark intensity of the 10/26/89 second set. So you never can tell...

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 2, 2011 12:55am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

I agree that both this show and 3/24/90 are much more involved in the "melodic" style of jamming than the meltdown/free jazz style of some of the later era material you find more interesting. You've mentioned that timbre is something significant to your enjoyment, and midi/synth of this era is really against your taste, so I think that is probably why you don't like this show, it does have a very heavily synthetic sound. I agree it sounds dated - I can even recognize some of the lame presets on Korg synthesizers of that era used for "atmospheric/spacy" sounds. At the same time, I think this show is an example where the "notes underneath" the midi are pretty good.

I really enjoy 10/16/89, and while I agree there is not much "intensity" in the sense of freakouts or meltdowns, there is real musicality and finesse, a lot of careful, attentive playing. I do not think it is nearly on the level of the best of 73, but just using a lot of synth and midi and playing in a relaxed style isn't the same as "elevator music" - the inner life of the instruments adjusting to each other is present. The music has good flow and fluency, the improv has room to breathe, and the set has good structure and the sequence of keys works well.

Purely in terms of note selection, Jerry's lines in the Dark Star reminds me more of his 69 licks than the other late era stars, but the real high point of jamming is probably the long playin based jam into the drums. Post-space isn't as jam-filled, but the key sequence works well, the sense of closure is real, and Attics has real emotional weight.

This is one of the cases where I think the aesthetics of the "30-year long continuous group composition" concept enters into play, because joining Dark Star and Attics is a real callback to some of the most transcendent shows the band ever performed. I think when you consider the corpus of the band's recorded work as a whole, and see how a show like this fits into the chronology, the aged-ness of the vocal harmonies in Attics becomes a strong point, not a weak point.

One way the GD's music and career broke new barriers in artistic expression is this kind of long-term continuity, and it cannot be said to be a "non-musical" issue, because the tones of the voices are an objective sonic fact, measurable on an oscilloscope, so to speak. The way a show like 10/16/89 resonates in time in harmony with shows decades earlier when looking at the entire sequence of show tapes is part of what makes it a masterpiece.

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Poster: Arbuthnot Date: Aug 2, 2011 12:54pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

let me just get it out of the way and say your post here is one of the best things i've read regarding the '80s sound, not to mention a precise yet broad, learned yet understandable summary of that 10/16/89 performance, so much so that i actually pulled out my copy and gave it a listen, for the first time

i won't lie to you, i am not a late era lover and am more readily categorized as an early era fanatic, even zealot, and yet you are absolutely correct in your assesment of what is going on here musically in this show, and in more than just moments i can easily feel myself transported back to an earlier '70s era; the PITB following a fairly good, very listenable Dark Star is really outstanding, the UJB excellent with the vocals seeming to blend quite well, an excellently executed solo from 5'45-ish to the 7 minute mark, how can you not like it?

great PITB jam leading into Drums, not quite on par with what they were doing in '73 and elsewhere in that era, but i agree on it being a jamming high light

the Attics is definitely moving and emotionally appealing, and the PITB coda a perfect ending to a great performance

i'll have to re-listen to the 1st set as i was a distracted doing other things while it was playing

'i will take you home' did not get a listen for the obvious reason

great post, thanks for it and for your always excellent contributions to the forum

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Poster: jerlouvis Date: Aug 2, 2011 1:11pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

I'm going to jump on the praise bandwagon with Arbuthnot in regard to some excellent points made by Bkidwell once again in this thread,while I fall more in line with LIA on his opinion of the music,during the PITB jam into drums Jerry sounds like he is playing a glockenspiel,at some point he might as well have sat down at a keyboard.I struggle with being able to listen to it.

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 2, 2011 1:23pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

I'm glad you found the show enjoyable, and thank you for your appreciation of my contributions. Like everyone else, I hear 67-75 as the band's best years by far, but I also feel motivated to speak up about the quality of some later era material. To some extent, I feel they don't get enough respect for being skilled, professional musicians.

I spent a lot of time trying to develop my skills as a musician, focusing on classical piano but also playing a ton of gigs in garage-rock bands with heavy Grateful Dead influence, and when I see some of the contemptuous commentary on the band's later performances, it makes me sad, because I would have given several toes to ever be part of making music as good as even the weaker eras of the GD.

What the Grateful Dead did musically, even in their relatively mediocre eras, is just inherently challenging and difficult. Even though I was playing music with people who were often fellow Deadheads, trying to get people to play extended free jams, and learn how to modulate between songs smoothly, hear and respond to thematic material - I just cannot describe the struggle and pain involved!

Musical listening is really challenging. Playing an instrument is hard to begin with, and group improvisation, where you have to physically perform while at the same time listening, and instantaneously composing the music you are about to perform, while finding common agreement about how parts should fit together, what the music is supposed to sound like - it is just indescribably difficult.

The run of the mill musician of any kind - rock training (often = no training) jazz training classical training - just doesn't have the skill set to do what the GD did, and it is not an easy skill set to acquire. People seem to be locked into either playing rather preset and canned parts, or playing wild and random stuff. The kind of smoothly changing organic music played by the GD in the early 70s, which can be either very organized tonally and rhythmically, or very dissonant, and moves back and forth in a controlled way - people just don't seem to "hear" the music clearly enough while playing, or lack the ear for harmony and melody. I'm just as "guilty" in this regard as any other mediocre musician, I'd give another toe for perfect pitch.

Classical musicians usually have the best ear for harmonies, and the most sophisticated ideas about "what music can do" in terms of smooth progression of ideas and organization, but usually have the least experience in improvisation. Jazz musicians usually learn how to play over changes, and how to play modally, but a lot of them stay locked into trading solos and playing over fixed heads, and perceive free music just as an opportunity to play a lot of fast random notes.

Anyway, all of that is a roundabout way of saying that a show like 10/16/89 still displays really impressive musicianship by the band, because it is still engaging with the almost-unique-in-musical-history approach to music making the band more or less invented.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 2, 2011 8:52pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

After some reflection, I thought I'd add a few words about my more "cynical" perspective on 10/16/89...

I don't want to try discussing the actual show quality - obviously, many people consider it a great show, so it's a non-debatable issue if they're enjoying things I can't get into! I do have a critical but biased ear, so I'm definitely not in the "it's all good" camp, and quite opposed to the stern "it's still the Dead so you ought to like it" viewpoint.
There's very little in 1989 Dead shows that gives me any pleasure...and much that I actively want to avoid.

I try to be up-front about my biases so people understand where I'm coming from - a lot of people here "started" in the Brent era & later moved back, whereas I bonded first with the earliest Dead sound & then could not adjust to what they sounded like in later years. (Actually I'm a bit more open about it than I used to be.)

So when I hear in this show what sounds to me like very "tinkly," decorative playing without any depth, it just shuts off any enjoyment I could get from it... As I've said, I respond mainly to the sound of an instrument, more than to the notes being played. So the prospect of Garcia sounding like a flute or a bassoon fills me with dismay! Sheer prejudice, I freely admit.

I agree that the little Playin' jam before drums is probably the highlight of the set....though the Take You Home>Miracle after drums is, well, one of those regrettable patches the era is filled with... Some people may like those tunes, though.

But I think the way a set like this emotionally resonates depends largely on what you as a listener bring to it... If the aging voices on Attics make it more moving for you, so be it. (Garcia's attempt to sing Dark Star, though, is sheer pain to hear!)
But it's possible that Attics may be one of those songs that, as Lincoln said of Shakespeare, "It matters not whether he be well or ill acted; with him the thought suffices." Just the fact of being performed in the later days could often make a song more moving - and I suspect the Dead were well aware of this, and may have pulled out Attics specifically for that purpose, to bring a tear to older deadheads' eyes! Straight audience manipulation, basically...

It's my feeling also that, to say that Dark Star is reminiscent of '69, or Playing is a little bit like '73, or Attics harks back to '70, is kind of a back-handed compliment for this show...is it really high praise to say this show almost recreates the glories of the past, like a faded Xerox? One of the things you've said before in praise of the '90s was that the Dead were still trying to create afresh and not just become the nostalgia act that many in the audience wanted. And yet here, we have the pleasant-nostalgia act in full force...

You make the good point that the Dead, for all the clutter & hype, were really at root a professional band of skilled musicians with rare improv qualities. Couldn't agree more - Garcia famously said that the Dead played like they did only after a lot of work and years of practice & constantly playing together. There is another side, though...
By 1989, they had been doing these kinds of smooth, extended jams & medleys for over 20 years, in show after show. I would think they could do this kind of set in their sleep. In other words - in Dead terms, the song medley here was an extremely familiar no-brainer. Even if, in overall musical terms, this is an impressive set, I kind of feel that after 20 years the Dead should be getting ever BETTER at these jams, and playing things their younger selves couldn't have touched. The bandmembers themselves said that was the case.... But I don't hear it very often, and especially not here.

Which touches on the "narrative of decline" you've mentioned. I've talked a lot in this thread about how the music suffered because of various band problems...and I'm probably as guilty of anyone in pre-assuming that if a show comes from a "bad" year, it just won't have much to offer. What I can offer in defense, though, is that (again, quite unlike your experience) when I first heard these later-era Dead shows, having little conception of what they might sound like, I was just horrified. I have no memories of Garcia's failing health, and little interest in his drug condition - I'd like to think I'm responding just to the sound of the music. Every so often, I do try to revisit some of these famous shows to hear them afresh; but I'm just still not warming up to them...

So I think it's a matter of taste, basically. I've been indulging myself here, but in general I don't talk about the later Dead much, feeling that it's best left to those who can appreciate those years more and hear whatever qualities might be in them. (After all, I wouldn't ask a vegetarian about the best hamburgers!) If they want to lob complaints at my beloved but unpolished '68, that's fine; it won't dim my fondness for that era!

I'll conclude by saying if it were some other later show under discussion, I might have much more positive feelings! This particular show just awoke a strong memory of revulsion & disappointment... Paradoxically, I think I may enjoy later-'90s shows more often than shows from this '89/90 period, due to the changes in style, sound, & songs...

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Poster: snow_and_rain Date: Aug 3, 2011 10:23am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

I like the Dark Star from 10/16. It starts strong, and I like the brisk pace, though it does lose a little steam as it angles toward PITB. I find the PITB>UJB part only so-so. Uncle John's is kind of a mess, actually. It always had decent jam potential, but definitely not a great song during this era. Miami is my favorite Dark Star from the tour by far.

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 2, 2011 11:48pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

Very nice comments LIA. As I mentioned elsewhere, I think you perceive the music clearly and accurately, whether you enjoy it or not.

I think you highlighted an important aesthetic question with the analogy to a "faded Xerox" - I would frame the same concept in slightly different language. To me, the relationship is more like that of a freshly constructed building, and a ruin, when the original building has a large scale and architectural nobility.

In other words, the later-era GD sometimes sound to me like an "old mossy castle" which has partly collapsed. Perhaps that sounds very critical, but there is a kind of aesthetic beauty to ruins!

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 2, 2011 6:48am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

Interesting statements there - I'll just offer a little setlist trivia about the connection between Dark Star & Attics:
They were played in the same show only 7 times in the Dead's history, and Attics directly followed Dark Star only three times - 6/24/70, 10/16/89, and 9/26/91.

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